The walk from chakki, the condemned cell (prison cell in which those sentenced to death await execution) to the gallows at the Ambala Central Jail is very short. But life convict Dharampal of Shahpur Turk in Sonepat, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President in 2013, did not walk the distance for about 18 years. Not that he did not have the courage, but because he was not allowed to move out of the solitary confinement before the execution day.
For Dharampal, who was awarded death sentence by a trial court in 1998 for murdering the family members of the victim whose deposition he was convicted of rape, an order upheld in 1999 by the Supreme Court, April 21, 2015, happened to be a big day. On that day, the Punjab and Haryana high court, which had in 2013 stayed his execution, commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. He says that before the HC order, he was edgy. “My psychological condition was that of a student who does not know whether he will succeed or fail the exam,” he said.
That was probably the first day after a long time that Dharampal was moved out of the condemned cell. The legal turnaround also seems to have changed his outlook. As he ambles past the neatly painted scaffold and locked trap door lever, he mutters: “This arena looks lively now. It was worse than a crematorium earlier.” Interestingly, he even claims to have become a jail grown fashion designer, an assertion which initially makes one wonder about his state of mind. But he tries to strengthen his argument with pictures of self-designed garments. “Had I known you were here, I would have worn fashionable clothes,” he says.
Dharampal, who very nearly went to the gallows, says he is grateful to Almighty for giving him another chance to live. “My death warrants from the Sonepat sessions court had arrived and even the hangman was requisitioned. But God willed otherwise and I am alive.” The man though has regrets. “I was acquitted in the rape case in 2003. But for this murder case, I would have been a free bird,” he laments. His remorse is palpable as he narrates the sequence of events. “It was an accident. I repent it. Josh mein hosh kho jaata hai (one loses one’s mind in a fit of rage),” he says about murder case.
“I was always a happy-go-lucky kind of a person. Dharti maan bhagwan ke school mein padhta tha. Main to yahan bhi khusiyan deta hoon. I try to cheer up people. I am regarded as jail ka hero.”
Dharampal was awarded death sentence by a trial court in 1998 for murdering the family members of the victim whose deposition he was convicted of rape. The order was upheld in 1999 by the Supreme Court. On April 21, 2015, the Punjab and Haryana high court, which had in 2013 stayed his execution, commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment.
July 4, 1992: Dharampal was sentenced to undergo 10 years of rigorous imprisonment in a rape case by the additional sessions judge, Sonepat
June 10, 1993: While on bail in the rape case, he along with his brother, Nirmal Singh, murdered five members of a family of the girl on whose deposition he was sentenced for 10 years
May 5, 1997: He and his brother, Nirmal Singh, were convicted and awarded death sentence by the trial court
September 29, 1998: The Punjab and Haryana high court confirmed the death sentence
March 18, 1999: Supreme Court upheld Dharampal’s death sentence but commuted his brother’s death sentence to life imprisonment
November 2, 1999: Dharampal filed a mercy petition before the President
November 19, 2003: High court acquits Dharampal in the rape case
March 28, 2013: President Pranab Mukherjee rejects Dharampal’s mercy petition
April 2013: Tentative date April 15 fixed for his hanging
April 6, 2013: High court his hanging
April 21, 2015: High court commutes death sentence to life imprisonment